Paul Richards was a special adviser to Hazel Blears during the last Labour Government, and writes a weekly column for Progress and LabourList.
There are some issues which transcend party rancour and demand a collective approach across the democratic divide. This higher national purpose is what motivated Attlee to serve as Churchill’s deputy, or Iain Duncan Smith to back Tony Blair over Iraq. It is in this spirit that I write this article, with a due sense of Daniel in the lions’ den. I have read David Cameron’s speech to the international security conference in Munich more than once, and I believe it deserves to be taken extremely seriously. It raises issues that deserve serious analysis, and stakes out positions with which I agree profoundly.
As a ministerial speech-writer in the last government I have seen all too often how the 'top-line" of a speech – the section that the spin doctors hope will resonate and be reported – can be ignored by the media in favour of some other line. Cameron’s speech contains the vital insight that you can’t tackle violent extremism (with suicide bombing as the in extremis example) without tackling non-violent extremism.
Every Al-Qaeda suicide bomber has been on a journey, starting with exposure to Islamist politics, books, speeches, demonstrations, and sermons, and ending in a world-view so warped that suicide and murder seem like a legitimate political tactic. Of course only a tiny minority of those exposed to Islamist ideology become bombers. But every bomber, and the people egging them on and supplying the kit, has been part of Islamist politics first. Many of the British bombers have been recent converts to a radical, political distortion of Islam. Therefore, as Cameron made clear, the way to tackle terrorism, alongside security activity, is to tackle the extremist ideology that spawns it. It’s about causes as well as symptoms.